Water One offers city buy-in option
The city of De Soto could turn on the spigot to Johnson County Rural Water District No. 1 for an investment of $4.2 million or $4.45 million, City Engineer Mike Brungardt told the City Council last month.
That cost is roughly the same as Brungardt estimated it would cost to upgrade the water plant at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to 4 million gallons a day capacity. But that $4.7 million upgrade can only start when the city secures title to the plant, something it has unsuccessfully pursued for five years.
The cost difference in the two Water One options was the location of the plant supplying water to De Soto. If it was located near or in De Soto to treat surface water from the Kansas River, the cost would be $4.2 million. If the water plant was located to the east to treat water from the Missouri River, the cost would be $4.45 million.
Both figures include a $2 million buy-in to the Water One system by way of a system development fee. The other large expense shared by both options is the installation of a nearly four-mile, 16-inch waterline connecting the Waverly Road water tower to the Water One system to the east.
It appeared the more expensive option would apply, Brungardt said, because the Missouri River offered Water One a more reliable source of water after the U.S. Corps of Engineers rejected a Water One application to build a weir on the Kaw near De Soto.
Tim Maniez, who didn't attend the work session, said the Water One options wouldn't solve all the city's problems.
"The problem I have with it is we still have the distribution system," he said. "When we sold the electrical utility, we got rid of it all."
The cost of managing the water department's distribution system was $353,000, according to a worksheet Brungardt provided the Council. That cost, which included such things as meter reading, billing and waterline repairs, would remain with the city's water department even should it join Water One.
Still Councilwoman Linda Zindler said the city shouldn't be too hasty in rejecting the Water One option, especially with no indication of when the Sunflower water plant would be transferred to the city.
"I certainly have an open mind to Water One," she said. "I say that because I'm going on year five on the Council, and we still have no title to Sunflower and the risk involved in making millions of dollars of improvements when all we have is a short-term lease on that facility."
A Sunflower water plant upgrade to 4 million gallons of production a day only worked if De Soto found an outside buyer of the more than 3 million gallons a day the city wouldn't use, Zindler said. Although there are potential buyers out there, selling the water would get the city in the water business, an activity that might be beyond its reasonable scope, she said.
Councilwoman Betty Cannon didn't reject the Water One option but said there were many questions she'd want answered before she would support buying water from the utility. Like Maniez, she was concerned the city would keep the aging distribution system. She also said the Water One proposal was fundamentally different than the sale of the electrical distribution system.
"We're going to pay them to take us," she said. "When we sold the electrical system, we got money for it.
"I'm not really leaning either way. I just want to see what it is going to cost us."
Rates haven't been developed for the Water One options or for city production once the Sunflower improvements were made because the city was still to get true administrative costs of the city administrator's and other non-water department personnel's time.
Despite the condition of the Sunflower water plant, it has improved the city's production and level of service. Gone are the days of voluntary water rationing during summer or droughts, as the Shawnee Street water plant was pressed beyond its capacity to meet demand.
"We produce at Sunflower now," Brungardt said. "We only run the Shawnee plant to keep it operational in case of emergency."
The reliance on the Sunflower water plant has eliminated the need for overtime in the water department, save for repairing leaks, Brungardt said. That was not an insignificant expense because of the aging waterlines in old-town De Soto, he said.
This year, the city was able to valve off a loop of deteriorated waterline at Sunflower that experienced frequent leaks such as the one last year that drained the east water tower.
After a long hassle with the Kansas Water Office, the city has secured junior water rights to the old Sunflower well field.